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Gov. Baker Unveils Broad Plan to Combat Opioid Abuse

BOSTON — Clear in his aim to reframe substance abuse as a public-health crisis that can’t be solved by law enforcement alone, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday detailed a suite of options to reverse the trend of opioid addiction that last year claimed the lives of more than 1,000 residents across the state.

Baker, who was joined at a press conference by Attorney General Maura Healey, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, and a Cape Cod family impacted by substance abuse, spoke of investing in new beds for treatment, providing resources for schools to educate students on the dangers of painkillers, and reforming the way the criminal justice system handles addicts.

The governor’s task force on substance abuse produced a report with 65 action items that include making the state’s prescription monitoring program easier for physicians to use and more efficient at producing real-time data that can be used to target treatment and intervention programs.

“Let me make one thing perfectly clear here. Opioid addiction is a healthcare issue that knows no boundaries across age, race, class, or demographics,” Baker said. “From the Berkshires to Boston to Cape Cod, too many people have heart-wrenching stories of loved ones and friends that battled with addiction and, in some cases, lost their lives.”

Unintentional opioid overdoses claimed an estimated 1,008 lives in Massachusetts in 2014, an increase over the prior year and more than three times the number of lives lost to automobile accidents.

The report calls for the creation of nearly 200 new treatment beds by July 2016, state funding for school prevention programs to be designed at the local level, a partnership with a chain pharmacy to pilot a drug take-back program, and amendments to the civil commitment statute to include substance-abuse disorders.

According to Health and Human Services, the plan calls for adding 64 treatment beds in Greenfield at Behavioral Health Network, 27 new beds in Westborough at Spectrum Health, 34 new beds in Natick at Metrowest Medical Center, 24 new beds in Dartmouth at Acadia Health, and 43 new beds in Haverhill at Summit Behavioral Health.

“It can’t just be law enforcement, and it can’t just be Health and Human Services,” Sudders said.

Baker’s task force recommended a process to certify and register drug-free housing for recovery addicts, to require prescription monitoring data to be entered into the system within 24 hours by pharmacies instead of within seven days, and to improve the affordability of the overdose reversing drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, through bulk purchasing.

Baker said he intends to file legislation “shortly,” perhaps within the next 10 days, to begin implementing some recommendations, and will seek $27.8 million in new funding from the Legislature in FY 2016. Sudders said that the administration will also repurpose $6.7 million in existing funds to bring the total investment next year to $34.5 million.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he’s hopeful that the House and Senate can accomplish some goals quickly through the budget process. Both the House and Senate passed measures geared toward combating substance abuse that overlap with the governor’s recommendations, including the Senate’s proposal for bulk purchasing of Narcan.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo also said he would be amenable to making additional financial resources available to Baker.

“I don’t think there’s a person in this building that doesn’t feel that opioid addiction is one of the major issues facing us as a Commonwealth and, as such, maybe some of the stuff we can do through the budget process. But having said that, I think that whatever resources are necessary to combat this issue, I think we have to use,” DeLeo said.

The governor also said he was in discussion with other governors in the region about how to make the state’s prescription monitoring data compatible across borders to stop patients from doctor shopping in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and other nearby states.

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